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Every parent and baby will approach weaning in a way that works best for them, and some choose baby-led weaning. An alternative to spoon-feeding and using purees, it's a popular option that's recommended by paediatric experts and can offer lots of benefits for busy parents and developing babies.
We know that choosing a weaning style to suit you and your baby can feel daunting. So, read on to learn all about the benefits of baby-led weaning, when to start, and what kind of foods you can offer.
If you're getting ready to add complementary foods into your little one's diet, you may be wondering what baby-led weaning is.
Well, baby-led weaning (BLW) quite simply means letting your child feed themselves solid foods from around six months old, bypassing more traditional pur��es and mashed-up foods.
The term was created in 2001 by Gill Rapley. It describes a relaxed, unstructured approach where babies are offered solid foods and feed themselves.
Although it can be a little messier than traditional weaning, tons of benefits come with choosing to take a baby-led approach to weaning.
Most parents typically begin weaning and introducing their baby to foods other than breast milk or formula from six months. By this age, most little ones have reached some important developmental milestones and can start feeding themselves certain solid foods.
However, every baby is different, and those who were born prematurely may not be ready to start weaning until a later age.
Because all little ones are different, it's important to look out for certain cues that will let you know if your baby is ready to start baby-led weaning or not. These include...
Baby-led weaning involves setting out soft food in front of your little one on a table or highchair and letting them take control of feeding.
The food is usually served in small, soft pieces that can be held in the baby's hand, rather than being offered on a spoon. First, they will use their hands, then move on to using cutlery.
Perfect baby-led weaning foods to help you get started include things like toast batons, cucumber or carrot sticks, steamed broccoli, chicken, salmon - whatever they're able to hold, squash and sensibly chew, or gum! That's the essence of it.
You should keep on giving your baby feeds of breast milk or formula when you first start weaning. You'll find that as they're gradually able to eat more solids, their number of milk feeds will decrease.
Before you start weaning your baby, it's a good idea to get prepared. The following items can help:
The most common concern around baby-led weaning is safety and choking, and many parents ask if baby-led weaning is safe. The truth is, one recent study found there's no increased choking risk for babies who feed themselves solid foods compared to spoon-fed infants. Therefore, baby-led weaning is no more dangerous.
Often, babies are not choking when they eat, but gagging. Gagging may appear similar to choking at first glance, and can be scary, but they're entirely different. So, it can help to know what to look out for.
Gagging is caused by your baby's gag reflex. This is a natural safety mechanism we have to help prevent choking. Your little one may also gag on foods they're trying for the first time. This is because their taste buds aren't yet used to these new flavours and textures.
Gagging is sometimes mistaken for choking. But don't worry, gagging is a perfectly normal part of tasting new foods. If you recognise the signs of gagging, don't try to help your baby or prevent them from vomiting, as this can cause them to choke.
Signs of gagging include...
It's always important for parents to know the signs of choking, just in case. These include...
To keep your baby safe while they're weaning, you should...
Sit them upright, facing the table, either on your lap or in a highchair and make sure they can sit steadily and use their hands and arms freely.
Never leave them alone with food and always monitor them at mealtimes.
Discuss the introduction of solids with your health advisers if your family has a history of food intolerance, digestive problems, allergies or any other concerns about your baby's health or development.
There's no set amount of food that babies should eat during the BLW process. The idea of this method of weaning is that they'll tell you when they've had enough. Plus, since they're still having breast milk or formula feeds until they're at least a year old, they're sure to get all the calories they need.
At first, it's all about exploring the food and creating a mess more than eating for your baby, but that's part of the process! Then, you can try to introduce one new food each day for your baby to explore as they grow. This way, they have a variety of foods and discover more options they enjoy, and you can see what kind of foods and shapes they prefer.
Now that we've covered what baby-led weaning is, let's run through some recommendations for the best foods for baby-led weaning by age.
As well as the foods listed above, from seven months, you can start to introduce:
By the age of 10 months, little ones should be having three meals a day - with lunch and dinner including a main course and dessert of fruit or plain yoghurt.
Variety is the spice of life, and weaning is no different! There are tons of great websites, books, and blogs you can use for research to inspire your baby-led wean journey. Here are a few to get you started:
There are certain foods that it's best for your baby or toddler to avoid altogether when weaning. These include:
Here are some of our top tips to help you and your tot ace baby-led weaning.
Molly says "when it comes to weaning a toddler, the truth is that it gets messy! We did baby-led weaning, and my kitchen was a tip, but seeing how amazed my little boy was by food cancelled out the mess he left in the kitchen".
Sarah and Laura found that when they "began weaning, it opened up a whole new experience for us. It can get messy, but it's also really fun and exciting. We spent hours looking online and through books to find recipes, and it was amazing to introduce our little girl to new foods".
At around six months old, a baby should be eating a small amount of solid food around once a day - at a time that suits both of you. Then, from seven to nine months, this should gradually increase to three meals a day (breakfast, lunch, and dinner), in addition to their milk feeds.
A baby's appetite can vary from one day to the next, so it's best to take cues from your baby, as they'll know when they're full. And remember that it can take 10 or more attempts for a baby to accept a new food - so be patient and don't give up if they don't seem to love a certain food or ingredient right away.
Absolutely! Some parents love baby-led weaning and prefer it to traditional spoon feeding, while others use a bit of both.
As with most parenting topics, there isn't one right or perfect way, just what feels right for you and your baby. The main thing is that your baby has a healthy, varied diet, and gets all the important nutrients they need to grow and develop.